It is hard not to get emotional when I think about my journey and how far the workforce and the world have progressed and continue to strive for a more inclusive and accepting society. Having faced discrimination to the point of feeling shameful for who I loved and who I was as a person left me in a dark place. I joined the United States Marine Corps fresh out of high school in the year 1994. I had such high hopes and dreamed of making a lifelong career, seeing the world, learning a trade, and serving my country. Sadly, those feelings would change about a year into my 4-year enlistment.
I was always cautious about whom I chose to share particular aspects of my life with when it came to my sexual orientation. I was very young and had only verbally said the words “I’m gay” to one other person in my life. That was only because they felt safe enough to disclose that about themselves to me first. Being a young Marine, you quickly inherit so many brothers and sisters. You feel love and camaraderie like you couldn’t imagine. I immediately felt shielded and accepted at all times, but those feelings would soon end. One morning, I was called in to speak with my Commanding Officer. I was questioned by him, our Executive Officer, and our squadron Sergeant Major. The questions centered around my association with an individual who was reported to them by an unknown source as being gay. I was never directly asked if I was gay, but they made sure it was implied in every uncomfortable way possible. I was warned to stop associating with certain people on base because it could give the impression that I am disclosing that I was gay. They went on to tell me that I could still be investigated as long as no one directly asked me. I was also warned about having a short haircut as it was considered “eccentric” for females. At this time, being openly gay in the military was a path to being forcibly discharged. With the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy freshly implemented, I was somewhat protected as long as I played by the rules. I had a very small group of friends who were gay, and we all cherished any time that we got to spend with each other and just be ourselves. After the meeting, I stopped associating with them while we were on base. When we were off base in a public venue, we constantly checked our surroundings. We would have one person enter the building to check and give the “all clear” before entering, and we would never leave the establishment at the same time. After the warning from my superiors, things got pretty dark for me. The rest of my military career was filled with doubt, insecurity, worry, and paranoia. I still had the support of my closest “straight” Marine brothers and sisters, but I could never truly be myself. When my 4 years of service were complete, I was torn on the decision to re-enlist or separate. I loved my job, and I was so happy to serve, but I could no longer live in fear.
After separating from the Marine Corps and starting a job as a civilian, it was still hard for me to adjust. I found that many corporations around my town had fired people based on sexual orientation. Years into my civilian life, things started changing for the better. I was starting to feel a sense of belonging in my community even being openly gay. I still have a way to go with acceptance within myself, but thankfully I don’t have to fear that from my job. 🙂
Working for a company that supports and even celebrates individuals for who they are regardless of their sexual orientation brings me such joy and a sense of belonging that I never experienced before in a workplace. The fact that Foundever celebrates “Pride Month” fills my heart with a sense of hope, inclusion, and unity on such a personal level. The message that this company bravely sends to society and the world is that everyone deserves to be treated with respect regardless of who they love is so powerful. Keep being the change that embodies what it means to be human.
United States of America